A major health concern are industrial trans fatty acids (iTFAs) that are created during partial hydrogenation of oils. Trans fat foods refer mainly to the foods that are made with partially hydrogenated oils and contain high amounts of industrial trans fatty acids, not ruminant fat which is not considered harmful.
Stir frying and deep frying foods in high temperatures at home, may also create trans fatty acids.
However, they are in small amounts that fall below the recommended daily limit of 1% of total daily energy requirements. (1)
NOTE: Trans fats are often compared to saturated fats due to similarities in the chemical structure. While there is a solid evidence that iTFAs are extremely damaging, there are no studies proving that saturated fat causes any harm. Saturated fat is rather neutral to health.
Trans fat foods can be easily avoided.
Following Denmark’s example, some countries, such as Norway, Iceland, Hungary, Austria and Switzerland, introduced a total ban on these harmful substances.
Other countries, such as the U.S.A., Canada, Argentina, Costa Rica, South Korea, Israel and Sweden (2, 3), have already started to implement strategies to reduce trans fat, by totally or partially banning partially hydrogenated fatty acids. (read more..)
Bans on iTFAs and partially hydrogenated fatty acids (PHOs) are being introduced, labeling laws are being implemented and many manufactures reduced the usage of PHOs at their own initiative and to meet the growing demand for healthy foods.
However, we are not totally safe from trans fat foods, especially in countries which don’t impose any legal restrictions.
I encourage you to check the legislation regarding iTFAs and PHOs in the country you live in.
In other countries, current nutritional labeling does not guarantee that the food doesn’t contain trans fatty acids in safe amounts.
This is due to legislative loopholes and to ways that producers find of tricking customers by clever labeling strategies that don’t disclose clear information on trans fats.
The following is a list of products that may contain iTFAs depending on what ingredients were used by the manufacturer.
Unless there are strict bans on these substances, as in Denmark and soon in the U.S.A., or the labels clearly state that no iTFAs or PHOs were used, these products might be high in iTFAs and, therefore, their intake needs to be restricted.
List of potentially high in trans-fat foods
The list of trans fat foods is long. Some of these products have no nutrition labels which makes it more difficult to identify those that contain PHOs or iTFAs. For those products with labels, see how to identify often hidden trans fats. For those without labels, such as fried foods or popcorn, the safest way is to simply avoid them, and find healthier alternatives.
- baked goods such as pies, muffins, donuts, cupcakes and cakes
- breakfast cereal
- cake frostings
- cake pancake and waffle mixes
- coffee creamer
- corn and potato chips
- deep fried foods in high temperatures in reheated oils
- fast food (especially deep fried foods and other foods that use fat)
- frozen burritos
- frozen pastries
- frozen pizza
- frozen snack foods
- hot chocolate mixes
- instant mashed potatoes
- noodle soups in a cup
- pasta mixes
- peanut butter
- popcorn (microwave and fast food)
- sauce mixes
- stir fried foods
- taco shells
- Learn how to identify trans fat foods from labels.
- Other foods from the above list without labels should be avoided.
How to reduce consumption of trans fat foods?
- Avoid deep fried foods from fast food restaurants
Since fried foods are not packaged foods, they don’t come with nutrition labels. Therefore, there is no way of knowing what fat was used for frying these foods.
In countries with no total ban on iTFAs, PHOs are often used due to their low cost and guaranteed stability in high temperature frying. Because these oils are more stable than other fats, they are usually reheated more times than other fats.
This generates extra iTFAs in the process.
Although the amounts are relatively small, they can add to your daily trans fatty acid intake, depending on the individual’s diet. The fried foods with the highest amounts of iTFAs are French fries, hash browns, fried chicken, fried fruit and savory pies.
As a general rule, you should avoid deep fried products from fast food outlets.
In restaurants, always ask if the oils are freshly replaced every day.
However, you need to be aware that unless you are paying top dollar for a meal in a restaurant, your food will most likely be prepared with low-cost ingredients and that generally means cheap oils.
- Avoid margarines and shortening
In some countries, margarines and shortenings are still being produced with partially hydrogenated oils and contain high amounts of iTFAs.
Even with the current labeling legislation, in the United States you can easily go over the recommended TFA amount, if you do a lot of baking with margarines or shortening or eat a lot of commercial baked products which have unknown concentrations of TFAs.
Countries with strict bans on iTFAs are not in danger of overconsuming iTFAs from margarines and shortenings.
However, since these laws are not applied universally, it is safer to verify it in individual countries.
Thankfully, in the United States, PHOs will be phased out in 2018, which will ensure low levels of iTFAs.
However, if you live in a country where there is no ban in place or you are not sure and don’t want to take any chances, the best advice is to swap margarines and shortenings for healthier fats.
This not only will help you to avoid iTFAs, but also bad omega-6 fatty acids and chemicals, that are generated during the production process.
You can choose:
– Spreads: organic butter, avocados, peanut, and other nut butters;
– Frying: coconut oil or avocado oil (stable in high temperatures);
– Dressings, sauces: extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil and walnut oil.
- Eat less processed foods
Many processed foods, such as baked products, pastry, frosting, cakes cookies, pies, various snacks, non-dairy creamers, frozen pizzas, donuts, cake mixes and frostings, commercial baking mixes, biscuits/cookies from the supermarket shelves and some ice-creams, contain iTFAs.
If you chose to eat these foods, make them at home from basic ingredients (not the ready-made, industrial cake mixes) that don’t contain partially hydrogenated fats.
Please note that, many brands of commercial peanut butter contain partially hydrogenated oils to stabilize the fats.
Try to make peanut butter at home using a good blender. However, if you decide to buy a commercial peanut butter, look for an all-natural, organic one.
- Avoid non-dairy creamers
Many brands of non-dairy creamers are high in fat, which in turn is high in partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Choose the non-dairy creamers that don’t contain soybean oils, or switch to more natural substitutes, such as cow milk (lactose free if needed), nut milk or rice milk. You can make nut or rice milk easily at home from numerous recipes that are available online.
- Butter flavored Popcorn
Available in cinemas, fast food outlets or on the shelves of supermarkets, these popcorns use partially hydrogenated oils and are full of iTFAs.
This is actually one of the most popular foods with the highest iTFAs contents. It is best if you try making popcorn yourself at home.
It is very easy to make, tastier, is cheaper than buying an industrial type full of iTFAs and artificial flavoring and it is healthier.
Please also note that the lining of the microwavable popcorn bag contains a dangerous chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is present in microwave popcorn bag paper at amounts as high as 300 µg kg-1. (4)
- The most unhealthy trans fat foods are margarines, shortenings, butter flavored popcorn and deep fried foods.
- Avoid non-dairy creamers with soybean oil.
- Look for PHOs on the labels.
- Eat less processed foods.
IMPORTANT NOTE: beware of the replacement fats. While iTFAs are being phased out, other man-made fats may be replacing them.
This is the case with inter-esterified fats. Inter-esterification is another process which, although it doesn’t produce iTFAs, alters the molecular structure of fats.
Its’ health consequences are not yet very well-studied.
NUTRITION FACTS VS NUTRITION MYTHS
You will find a summary of the most common nutrition myths and evidence-based nutrition facts here.